Mayor withdraws Shockoe Bottom ballpark proposal

Posted at 11:46 AM, May 27, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-28 10:05:20-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - The Richmond City Council was expecting to decide the fate of Mayor Dwight Jones' Shockoe Stadium plan Tuesday evening.

But before council members could deliver what was expected to be a fatal blow to a proposal that would develop two different areas of the city, the mayor abruptly withdrew it, saying he hoped to change a mind or two before reintroducing it.

"I stand behind the plan," Jones insisted, minutes before the council was to vote. "This is the best plan for baseball in the city of Richmond," Jones said.

Some supporters of the plan, which include both business owners and residents of the Bottom, said the mayor did the only thing he could to prevent his plan from striking out.

"If the vote had gone tonight and it was a done deal, yes I would have been [disappointed], but I'm glad it's been postponed and hopefully we can make it happen," John VanPeppen the owner of Arcadia restaurant said.

"We need to make sure everybody gets benefit of hearing all aspects of plan so they can make an informed vote," Jones said.

The Richmond Flying Squirrels' owner Lou DiBello said he was grateful to Jones for advancing a plan that included a ballpark. He also said the team will need a new stadium soon, but speaking carefully, promised his agenda is to stay in Richmond for a number of years.

By the end of last week, five Richmond City Council members -- a majority of the nine-member panel-- had expressed their intent to vote against the mayor's plan.

"Mayor Jones and supporters say the people back his stadium proposal. Based on my discussions with Richmond residents, I respectfully disagree," Richmond City Councilwoman Reva Trammell said in a statement.

She asked the mayor put his vision before Richmond voters and let them decide whether to build a minor league baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom or leave it situated along Boulevard.

Council member Chris Hilbert says his mind is made up, and that he won't be changing it.

Council members Charles Samuels and Jon Baliles issued statements late last week that expressed their intention to vote against the plan and their displeasure with the way the mayor has handled its roll-out.

"We are disappointed that the Administration has decided in favor of yet another delay in providing details of their Shockoe ballpark plan. They introduced the latest version of their plan on May 12 with a requested public hearing date of May 27," the councilmen wrote in a joint statement. "After six months with a proposal that has far more questions than answers, site control still in doubt and is already over budget, this plan is not ready. After all, we are talking about $80 million of public debt. In the meantime, we have schools, roads and other issues which require our local government’s attention. We extend the olive branch to the Mayor to work and find solutions to the issues that face our City.”

After the mayor's plan was withdrawn, Council Member Baliles said he would be willing to reconsider if he receives all the facts, but still has a major issue with the so-called moral obligation the plan places on the city.

Friday Jones lashed out after learning a majority of the council planned to vote against his proposal.

"This decision is surprising since they’ve chosen to vote against something without learning about it first," the mayor wrote in a statement. "At no point have all City Council members been briefed on the most up-to-date information about all aspects of the plan. Council members are receiving the detailed information they requested, but most briefings have taken place in committee meetings or in lightly-attended informal sessions. Nevertheless, they now want to kill the project before hearing the information that staff, the developers and the baseball team have invested a great deal of time and expense to gather."

Even before Tuesday's withdrawal announcement, the mayor promised he would present "exhaustive details" of the stadium proposal on Thursday, a full two days after the scheduled vote.

“I encourage Council members to make informed decisions after Thursday, unless they simply don’t want to hear the facts,” the mayor said.